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back to article Facebook won't pull unmarked police plates page

Facebook has once again become a source of antipodean controversy after the social network reportedly declined to remove a page listing the number plates of unmarked police cars in the Australian State of Victoria. The "VIC Undercover Police Cars" page and "Victorian Police Booze/Drugs/Unmarked cars locations" pages both assert …

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Meh

Reverse tactics

Shirley it wouldn't be too hard to compile a list of "contributors" to the page? not necessarily to track them down, but if their name comes during an RBT check I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to throw the book at them.

Not all criminals are morons, but many contributors to these pages are - I've looked at a couple of the NSW equivalents, and the number of people who slag off cops whilst leaving their personal accounts on "public" is alarming - particuarly when their profiles show pictures of burnouts, boasts of what top speed they've hit, etc.

The page itself I don't have an issue with (despite being kind of useless - unless you memorise every plate on the site, you're still not going to know every undercover car on the roads) but the people using it don't seem to be the most clued-in types.

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Re: Reverse tactics

Pollute the data by posting plates of drug dealers, pimps, and IP lawyers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Reverse tactics

"if their name comes during an RBT check I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to throw the book at them."

For what? Taking a picture of a car? Or do the police now have the right to a complete information blackout around themselves and their cars?

The people posting those pictures may be morons, but that's a terrible reason to create a precedent for both preventing public oversight of police -and- a precedent for banning photography of public property in public places.

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Joke

Re: Reverse tactics

Encrypt the licence plates so people can't read them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Reverse tactics

Just curious if there is any way to look up the plates of the people contributing to the page and have left their profile public, and post their plates to the page.

In the states I believe a private party can get access this info for a price. Not sure how it works in other countries...

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Re: Reverse tactics

It's a total waste of time. By the time you can read the cop's plates, you're already screwed

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Re: Reverse tactics

What have you got against drug dealers and pimps?

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Facepalm

Lazy Cops

If the undercover cops are conspicuous enough to have their license plate recorded, it means they're doing it wrong. If they don't have enough license plates to quickly replace compromised ones, they're doing it wrong. Rather than trying to shut down the page, they should use it to improve their own operational security. Of course that would take away from their donut time. It's much easier to attack the messenger.

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Anonymous Coward

Easy - if the Police removed all the license plates from all of their unmarked cars...

...then the page would be useless. Job done.

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WTF?

@ David .W

"For what? Taking a picture of a car? Or do the police now have the right to a complete information blackout around themselves and their cars?"

I never said they'd be charged for taking a photo - I said they'd get the book thrown at them during an RBT. You even quoted me in your post, so I'm unsure how you jumped to that conclusion.

From what I've seen, many contributors to those pages have what could be considered "questionable" tastes in car mods. Taking photos of a car isn't illegal, but issuing a defect for a modification is fairly discretionary - there are huge numbers of issues that an officer could pull someone up on if they could be bothered, such as having a wider offset on a wheel that results in the rubber protruding from the arch, a wheel size greater than 2 inches bigger than what was fitted at the factory, ride height below 100mm, headlight colour temperature above 4800K, oiled gauze filter under the bonnet without an appropriate enclosure, emissions - the number of things that people *don't* get pulled up on is much greater than those that they do.

Running a check on a plate against contributors whilst doing a licence background check wouldn't take too much longer I would imagine.

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Coat

@Thorne: Re: Reverse tactics

>It's a total waste of time.

My view too. Subversive tokenism.

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Re: Reverse tactics

Well strictly speaking "Perverting the course of justice" by making it harder for undercover police to do their jobs. I'd like to avoid a 1984 style situation of the authorities always watching but I'm fairly sure that police surveillance of potential criminals is not the same as Big Brother watching.

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Re: Reverse tactics

If I were to guess, I'd say motorists are the most interested in this, so they know when they can and can't speed.

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Re: Mods

so true - reminds me of a time (many, many years ago) when a quy I knew with a suped up car made the mistake of talking back to a cop. The cop then spent the next 30 min going over the car until he found something to defect it on

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Silver badge

Re: Easy - if the Police removed all the license plates from all of their unmarked cars...

"Easy - if the Police removed all the license plates from all of their unmarked cars... ...then the page would be useless. Job done."

Great, so you just look for a car without plates and assume cop car.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Easy - if the Police removed all the license plates from all of their unmarked cars...

Great, so you just look for a car without plates and assume cop car.

The great whooshing sound you heard was you missing a joke..

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Holmes

Re: Reverse tactics

No, no, no. You need to encrypt the licence plates in such a way that honest people can read them, but criminals can't read them.

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Facepalm

Re: Re: Mods

".....The cop then spent the next 30 min going over the car until he found something to defect it on." Cops are not stupid, they know that if they look hard enough they can usually find something to give you hassle over if the copper can be bothered. It's usually simpler and a lot less painful just to be polite and deal without whatever reason the copper has stopped you for rather than going off on a rant and then getting your car towed away for a forensic search ("Five-Ten to Control, we have a suspected drug dealer's vehicle, we suspect the owner has been smoking illegal substances in the vehicle and need to sample all the upholstery - seats, doortrims, ceiling liner and carpets - by cutting out chunks to send for lab analysis..... Yes, he did call me a Nazi tosser.... Towtruck will be here in an hour? Excellent!").

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Thumb Up

Re: Lazy Cops

Why do people want number plates? Go by the type of car and colour.

Cop cars in "x" area :

Blue Audi A5 3.0TDI

Black BMW 335D

Silver/gray Volvo Estate 2.5T

Easy now on the common sense.

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Coat

Re: .. I've looked at a couple of the NSW equivalents

NSFW... New South Fucking Wales?

..mine's the one with the spare set of number plates in the pocket

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Re: Easy - if the Police removed all the license plates from all of their unmarked cars...

>Great, so you just look for a car without plates and assume cop car.

No - you have a law making it illegal to notice that a car doesn't have plates

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Re Morons

"Not every criminal in Victoria is a moron" ...

Facebook user? Moron? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

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Coat

Re: Re Morons

Having read some of the comment threads, I am worried that morons may be getting a bad name.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re Morons

Did you intend to complement facebook users for their enlightened understanding or did you mean tautology rather than oxymoron?

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Pint

Thank you!

It was been pointed out here in the good ol' USA that 1-in-4 Americans think the Moron is an endangered bird. As an American, your post has let me feel .03% better.

Thanks again!

;)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re Morons

"Facebook user? Moron? Isn’t that an oxymoron?"

No, No it isn't.

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So what you're saying is that currently for a month or two, yet, twitter is the platform of choice for the social media aware crook.

Actually I have not problem with this sort of page.

The pollies like to claim we live in a democracy, the police, nameless agencies and the defense force claim to be defending a democracy.

In a democracy you have free speech. Well in Australia we don't, but we're not really a democracy, we're a parlimentary monarchy.

But we do have implied political free speech (apparently).

If naming a narc is not political speech what is?

If we were Libyans figthing the Gaddaffi regime (or what's left of it) this would be a victory for social media.

We need to decide.

Which is it.

Are social networks to be used to create open societies - yes and de-frocking narcs is part of the open society .

BTW face book is not the first nor will it be the last platform that offers this service, e.g.:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whosarat.com

I'd say the narcs just have to get used to a brave new world.

Let's just say this perhaps in a zen bhuddist sort of way balances the fact they want to perform traffic analysis on every one in Australia's data for ever. And he drones that they will invariably have for watching us in the next 3-5 years.

Meh FTP (it 's file transfer protocol, honest officer).

Bah HUMBUG!!

Now if my traffic goes through the US I'll be on the department of health services watch list - because I've said certain words in this post.

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"I'd say the narcs just have to get used to a brave new world."

And let's hope all your family isn't brutally murdered and nobody is willing to come forward as a witness because of your brave new world. That would be tragic.

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Anonymous Coward

Are we talking about narcs

or undercover cops?

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Meh

In a democracy you have free speech. Well in Australia we don't, but we're not really a democracy, we're a parlimentary monarchy.

A democracy does not necessarily imply a right to full and total freedom of speech, and nor does a monarchy necessarily imply the absence of that right.

A parliamentary monarchy where the monarch's powers are so subscribed by the constitution as to be effectively zero, and where the monarch could easily be removed as head of state if the people voted for it, is essentially a democracy.

If naming a narc is not political speech what is?

Perhaps creating and putting forward an argument that undercover police represent a threat to the people rather than a benefit would be considered better political speech. One might argue that the law allowing for undercover police is created by an elected body and that the undercover police are operating within the law - and hence at least nominally with the consent of the people - in order to better identify others who are breaking the law.

If we were Libyans figthing the Gaddaffi regime (or what's left of it) this would be a victory for social media.

One might argue that the police in democracies are typically more interested in upholding justice, and that police in dictatorships are typically more interested in upholding the dictatorship. I accept that not everybody subscribes to this theory. Ultimately it comes down to whether one considers the police to be acting in the best interests of the general society or not.

Are social networks to be used to create open societies- yes and de-frocking narcs is part of the open society .

Again, only if you assume that undercover police are acting against the interests of the people rather than for them. I infer that you do make that assumption, but given that they are undertaking a function ascribed to them by the representatives of the people, one might suggest that directly reducing the effectiveness of that function is going against the will of the people and could thus potentially - and perhaps somewhat ironically - be considered anti-democratic.

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Silver badge

"In a democracy you have free speech. Well in Australia we don't, but we're not really a democracy, we're a parlimentary monarchy."

Actually in Australia, we're a two party communist goverment system. You get to vote for one of two parties but both are identical.

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One wonders how many of either side of the issue ...

... can recite their own plate number, much less the numbers of multiple other vehicles. Methinks this is the police/.gov making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

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Illegal compilation of motorist plates?

IIRC, in California, it is illegal to compile a database of motor vehicle plates. Well, illegal for non government collectors. Theoretically, it is about privacy and anti-stalking. But, vanity plates may be an exemption.

But, as for undercover cars, the police parking lots in San Francisco have all sorts of official vehicles that might be inactive or less used undercover cars of all makes and models, sitting in plain view, plates readable. The more protectrd cars are in underground garages. Similar with San Jose, Milpitas, and other cities which had to build down more and out less. Still, there is nothing to stop a clandestine parking of a vehicle that is camera equipped and which records plates. Plus, almost EVERY police agency has at least one rogue officer who will sell portions of or all of anything for the right price, and has an accomplice to cover tracks. Same with DMV, given the past incidents of corrupt employees selling real, but unauthorized ID cards to groups and individuals, enabling all sorts of people to live in the USA and illegimately obtain services, some to commit violent crimes.

The solutuin for the police is to simply make sure the plates do not associate to a specific officer or agency. At least, externally. That way, the sorces of leaks will be easier to find. But, gradually, the agencies will be discovered. So, they have to swap plates, i reckon.

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Silver badge

Re: Illegal compilation of motorist plates?

Genius! Claim car numbers are copyright, & go after them through the courts!

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Re: Illegal compilation of motorist plates?

Only if the rectangular plate has rounded corners

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Bronze badge

Also...plate sweeping

In certain cities, since police do not proactively mind their plates during intel and sting operations, some gangs collect info just by pressing into service any number of teens and others, equipping them with radios or almost untraceable wireless devices and phones. When Crown Vics and Ford Taurus or other fleet purchase vechicles or known confiscated vehicles breach a criminal "perimeter", a call will go out, at least 2 or more blocks away. Smarter criminals may operate from areas forcing a quasi choke point so there will be fewer streets and approache routes to monitor for undercover lurkers. Some may also "plate sweep" a neighborhood days or weeks in advance, rooting out potential problems, maybe even "concerned citizen" reporting dead or abandoned vehicles to see how responsivle ornresponsible and cooperating the tow agencies are with the police. Anything new and unmoving migh be suspicious, and inside contacts can be pressed (or blackmailed, or may be a criminal mole in the police ranks) to reveal the ownership to make sure it isnor is not a long distance relative or tourist and not a police or federal monitor.

I read a lot, and none of this is classified. I also have an imagination, as does any other person. And, if you imagine writing movie scripts, it goes a long way to making scenes original and plausible.

Some of this was in newspapers over 8 years ago. Similar things can be found in books written by cops who "told all"when they were set up by fellow cops. But, the military also has its own share of infiltration, pilferage, and more. Ultimately, it is a vicious, circular game....

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Childcatcher

Re: Also...plate sweeping

"Ultimately, it is a vicious, circular game"

You are so right. Game it is, and not pleasant. I quit.

[Go Giants]

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Re: Also...plate sweeping

"Ultimately, it is a vicious, circular game"

You are so right. Game it is, and not pleasant. I quit.

[Go Giants]

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Bronze badge

complete nonsense

Here in Deepest South Florida the local cop shops (and there are a lot of them) have a good number of unmarked cars... most of which are extremely obvious. If you see a white Ford Crown Victoria with the bumper bars and a spotlight, it's a cop car. And you can see bumper bars a _lot_ further away than you can read a license plate, and bumper bars are on the front and rear while here in Florida the only license plate is on the rear. The local cops also have a number of unmarked Dodge Chargers. To be precise, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has six unmarked Chargers: two white ones, a black one, a silver one, and a dark blue one. They used to have seven; a silver one got totaled in an accident on I-95 two months ago. Everyone who travels on I-95 and certain other roads such as Southern Blvd and Military Trail knows them. They swap out license plates every now and again, but they swap 'em with other unmarked cop cars. The County also has a red Ford Taurus which has, allegedly, been heavily modified, with a new engine and transmission, and a black Escalade. Florida Highway Patrol, the state cops, have four more Chargers (one each white, black, silver, and dark blue) and a yellow-and-black Dodge Daytona and a red Corvette. Both the County and the state have a number of silver Chevy Impalas; one of the staties is a high-end model with all options included. Those are the boys out making money by issuing traffic tickets. If you see a white Charger in the slow lane on I-95 between the Woolbright and Hypoluxo exits, you _know_ it's a cop car. If you see a silver Charger in the slow lane on Southern between the I-95 off-ramp and Military Trail, you _know_ it's a cop car. Well, anyone who's spent more than a few minutes on the road and who's paying attention knows it; it seems that they still catch idiots who _aren't_ paying attention. The staties also have a green GrandAm.

The Florida Department of Transport has at least three Ford F-250 trucks and a Chevy Silverado. Florida Fish & Wildlife has at least one Silverado and several Ford and Dodge trucks. DOT mostly chases truckers, and F&W has their own thing, so they won't annoy John Public unless you do something stupid right in front of them. (Which has been known to happen on I-95, a.k.a. Home of the Morons. Especially between the Woolbright and Hypolouxo exits. There's something about Boynton Beach which just attracts the mentally defective.)

The drug boys and the sex police have several Tauruses, mostly red ones, and Impalas, mostly silver. They do have a number of other vehicles, confiscated from drug thugs and pimps, including a Porsche SUV and a Benz SUV, and two more Escalades. Once again, they are all well-known. If you see a red Taurus with a license ending in 6PL cruising up Lake Worth between Congress and Military, or on Military between Belvedare and Forrest Hill, it's a vice car hunting hookers. Though I'd say that they'd have an easy job if they just hung out near the multiple establishments which have an, ahem, 'all girl staff' according to the signs out front.

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IT Angle

Re: complete nonsense

All fascinating stuff, no doubt, but hardly vital information for El Reg's overwhelmingly British readership?

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Re: complete nonsense

I'm part of the overwhelmingly British readership just back from Florida and I can attest to the stupidity of some of the drivers! Bundling down I95 into a thunderstorm, the wipers on max can't clear the windscreen and instead of slowing down and moving farther apart, everyone seems to catch up with the car in front and sit on it's tail so they can at least SEE what they are about to smash into!

I75 instead of I95 but you get the idea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9mMH0ES4sI

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Anonymous Coward

Not all criminals are morons,

But all Facebook users are.

Boom Boom !

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Happy

Re: Not all criminals are morons,

Basil, is that you ;)

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Happy

In Newfoundland, Canada, many government owned cars have ...

'G' plates. Regular car owners get a 'A' registration plate and trucks and pickup's get a 'C' lettered plate.

Dumb, simple.

There are a few cop cars that don't comply.

The other way, to spot which are the cop cars, if you know radio antennae sizing, is by their slightly longer antennae lengths. The RCMP don't always play fair, they have concealed antennae under the rear window shelf in the trunk (boot).

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Anonymous Coward

You know what?

As much as I dislike boy racers etc, I hate the "throw the book at em" brigade in equal measure.

Currently the UK harvest's 10's of thousands of photo's of car number plates, faces, locations details of poeple every single day and 10's of thousands of these people have done absolutely nothing wrong. Private and council car parks horde this information, train companies publish personal details for the very minor offence of not having a train ticket, public and private businesses slurp up information about us like there is no tomorrow, CCTV is everywhere.

So you know what? I have bugger all sympathy for them.

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Megaphone

Re: You know what?

This is what I was thinking - it's escalation of sorts.

The people require a police force - it helps to keep some sort of order in society and with the right checks and balances, a minimal amount of innocents prosecuted as guilty - with compensation in those cases.

The problem is when too many checks and balances are stripped away, or sweeping, overbearing laws are introduced (don't worry we'll only use it against 'real' terrorists). When too many freedoms are given to the police force to arrest people wearing offensive tee-shirts, saying things they don't like to hear, being in the wrong place at the wrong time...

When more 'innocent' members of the populace are caught in the widening perp-classification - then these reclassified perps/people are going to start seeing the police as an enemy of freedom rather than a necessary evil to ensure a certain level of freedom. So someone who's greatest offense towards society may be wearing a 'not nice' political tee-shirt or driving 33mph in a 30mph zone, suddenly finds themselves motivated to be far more anti-establishment by 'outing' undercover cops.

=== tl;dr ===

If the police used these undercover vehicles strictly for serious crimes, then normal, borderline people (parking tickets, minor speeding etc) wouldn't feel the need to go so far to out them.

Same goes for how law is enforced generally - don't abuse your position, and reasonable people won't feel the need to fight back.

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Unhappy

Re: You know what?

Separate private companies there briefly (who are subject to the Data Protection Act), and you're left with government and emanations thereof, trying to run a state, i.e. protect us from one another. Distinguish that from a bunch of kids who on a whim put up these number plates so as to help one another evade the state's crime control activities, and whose activity gives the police yet another job (getting new plates) and in both senses, hindering the police in doing their proper job, and you'll see the state and the kids "slurp[ing] up information" are very different propositions indeed.

We do need the state, you know! People don't automatically play nice, as some sort of consequence of getting their libertarian jollies!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The obligatory XKCD reference:

but not in NZ: "Police clamp down on confusing personalised plates"

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10837764

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